The Plastic Static

Static

Static

Damn. How did so much time get away from us?

It’s like one minute you are standing in the middle of a warehouse in the early nineties, high on cheap beer, brown weed, teenage freedom and rock and roll; next thing you know it’s a different century and a different world, and everyone is compartmentalized and plastic and isolated.

Yes, we are getting older. Some of us, not all of us survived.

And one has to wonder sometimes, who is the winner in this game? The ones who checked out early? The ones who missed so many years? Those of us left behind? To carry on, to trudge forth even as we see everyone and everything around us crumbling.

These days I’m not so sure.

I crawled out of a cave. I fell asleep sometime in the last century and woke up here. In a museum, in a cheap science fiction movie. Here, we are both the spectators and the spectacle.

This hallway is black. Not dark. Black. Light doesn’t dare traverse it’s expanse. There are glimpses of neon here and there, but it’s impossible to tell if they are real or hallucination. The absence of light makes the hallway feel immense, long, possibly unending. That’s another scary notion. Eternity. The thought that there may be no end to this.

And then we must ask ourselves again, which is worse? The eternal shuffling toward nothing, or the exit too early; the ones we have lost, who have fallen along the way. Are we sad they have gone? Or is it only us growing ever lonelier as they one by one depart?

I looked for you. I looked forward to reconnecting.

You wouldn’t recognize the place. Everything has changed since you left.

We’ve torn down nature and put up a plastic nature replica. It will last forever, and it doesn’t get messy like the real thing. We still aren’t sure if the birth defects are a direct result of the synthetic natural plastic alloy or merely a coincidence, but we aren’t letting it slow us down either way.

The streets are emptier too. You would get along a little better with less traffic, fewer distractions to fight for your attention. You see that’s where there was a bookshop. That used to be a record store. This was a Wags before it was a Perkins before it was a Bakers Square before it was the Sunshine Breakfast Club before it was finally abandoned and left to rot away.

This used to be the beach. Our beach. I wish I could say they left this one alone.

It almost feels the same, the yellow moon peeking down through slivers of cloud. That breeze that always hints of winter, even in August, always reminds you of how cold it could be.

As if it had any idea.

Nothing that lives or breaths or moves really knows anything of the true cold. The freezing. The motionless waiting, staring. Stuck in your tracks. So cold you can’t even feel it anymore.

It doesn’t matter, you wouldn’t recognize this anyway. It is not ours. This is no longer the world we knew.

This. You see this? This passes for sand. I know. It is cleaner. It doesn’t get in your shoes and stuck in every crevice. This is static. This is electronic noise, pixels, bits of information formed to resemble the granules we knew growing up but without all the mess.

Maybe that’s how they’ve done it. Maybe that’s how the rug was pulled out from under us. Maybe they filled up all the hourglasses with this synthetic sand. It bought them all the time in the world.

There was a point I was trying to make. There was something I wanted to say to you, but I seem to be only rambling. I’m sorry to waste your time. You would have laughed at that one. The idea of wasting time. Maybe you had it right all along, you and the Mad Hatter.

Maybe yours was the right move. Maybe I’m worse off for witnessing this. Maybe it is you who escaped and I who am trapped. Imprisoned in black iron, indeed the empire never ended.

Still, I thought there would be more time. I thought we would meet again. Even if it was out here in the fringes of reality. This crumbling pier hanging precariously over the edge, over nothing, a bottomless pit of black frozen emptiness.

©Robert Emmett McWhorter

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Beatles #2

Labrador Dali- Abbey Road medley part 1-Halloween 2010So much of my childhood was instructed by The Beatles. I was in second or third grade when I made a crude parody of Yellow Submarine called ‘Purple Trans Am.’ I showed it to my music teacher, this one was more encouraging than the previous one. She printed out copies and had the whole class sing it.

I sang loud at first, I really thought the other kids would like it. By the end only the teacher was singing wholeheartedly, playing the piano and her back mostly to the class. A few other kids were still singing along in a purely obligatory fashion, the rest had abandoned it and a few were giving me dirty looks.

Afterward, by our lockers, one of the bigger girls in the class came over to scowl at me. She said she could easily write a better song than mine. I told her to prove it. I have been waiting thirty eight years now to hear her effort, although long ago I came to admit that my attempt was no feat to better.

A few years later I read about how The Beatles recorded, I first encountered the idea of multitrack recording. They weren’t playing these songs live at putting them on tape, they were recording a few bits at a time, overlapping all the pieces and putting it together as these grand musical paintings. I knew I had to try this.

My first attempts were probably made when I was 11 or 12. I had collected a few very crappy instruments, but it didn’t matter much because I didn’t know how to play at all. This didn’t seem important. I would record a track, usually at first it was a drum track or rhythm. I would rewind the cassette and put it in another deck where I could play it back loud, and record me playing along on the guitar and singing.

It was very rough at first. Between my inability to sing or play, tape his, and the high loss of quality that occurred when the back tracks were played over our family stereo; most attempts came quickly to the point of diminishing returns.

It was a few years later when I first got an open reel recorder, old fashioned even when I was a kid, half inch reel-to-reel at fifteen inches per second. This deck had separate record button for left and right, so I could easily listen to myself on one channel while recording the other. Soon enough I managed to find a way to bounce these tracks down to one, so I could then add on more parts, almost to infinity, in theory anyway. Again the devil that is tape hiss was always in the mix, although now he was more easily kept at bay. When I was sixteen or seventeen I got my first used cassette four-track. Finally, it felt like the skies were wide open and the training wheels were off.

I had so much fun for so many years just hiding away and making up songs, and attempting to put together little albums. I always enjoyed this so much more than playing live. The first few awkward attempts I made at performing had left a sour taste in my mouth. But I occupied and entertained myself for hours and years decades even, experimenting at home with what sort of weird sounds I could coax out of the darkness.

Years later, in my twenties, I would come to really love playing live. Ha. It helps when you know what you are doing, a little bit at least.

As I grew up I came to see The Beatles differently as well. I’ve admitted at a young age I really did want to grow up to be John Lennon, but as I got older I started to see in many respects he was not a man to emulate. I’m not perfect, no one is, Beatles included. There’s a few times if you know their history one could use words such as ‘asshole’ when speaking of them individually or as a group.

I’m not judging, I’m just saying, I learned pretty early these guys were just another set of goofy humans. There was nothing godlike or even saintly about them. Underneath it all, they were just these four guys, you know? Instead of trying to become anyone else or repeat anyone’s, I was free to do as I please, I was fully able to make my own mistakes.

I still have mad respect for their music, and there impact on me is something that can never be erased. I visited New York early in the century, and made a point of visiting Strawberry Fields and the Dakota, the last place where John Lennon lived. I got choked up as we walked passed the gated entrance, I don’t think I’m the only one, but I couldn’t say for sure as my eyes had become blurry.

And now, looking back, it has been fifty years since I first came to America, and swept us up in a tsunami of guitars and screaming teenagers. The question is often asked, as it has since probably the late 60s, can there ever be a band like this again, this big, this ubiquitous and global? I really don’t think so, but I don’t think it has much to do with music.

Not discounting their immense talents, there is also time and timing involved. Time wise, many things have changed since the Beatles split up forty-four years ago. I can’t see any musician today having the same global, universal impact. Music today feels so divided and compartmentalized. Timing wise, at least here in America, I think we have to remember when the Beatles first came to America, first played on the Ed Sullivan show, 50 years ago tomorrow, that the nation was still mourning.

Only three months prior our president John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Besides the obvious grief and pain our nation was feeling, this act was also the point where many people lost their sense of innocence, started to look at the systems and constructs around themselves with a more suspicious and skeptical eye. I was born too late to know first hand, but from anyone I have ever read or heard or talked to on the matter describes it as a moment when we collectively felt the wind knocked out of us.

I imagine in many ways it felt much like September 11th, possibly more painful just because of the innocent time that it shattered.

The country mourned, some say the country fell into a depression all together. The months passed and then it seems the country needed something to break its lament, to lift off the melancholy blanket we hid underneath.

I think ultimately there will be more people on level with The Beatles, but they were so much more than mere stars. I believe they are up there with the names of the ages, with Shakespeare and Beethoven and Van Gogh. Those few names our species will remember as long as we go on remembering things.

Another question I have heard asked especially recently, what about fifty years from now, will people still be talking about them when they are one hundred years old? I think so, almost certainly. I will, at least, if I’m still around.

Beatles #1

ab erode

Stunt Puddles- A Bee Rowed

Sunday, February 9th marks the fiftieth anniversary of The Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, in effect the beginning of Beatlemania as well as the British Invasion. For the first time in the short history of Rock & Roll, a band stayed relevant beyond the few years which were expected at the time, put out an incredible and prolific stream of music, and completely transformed popular music, if not the world.

By the time I came around, it was over. But some of my earliest memories relate to The Beatles, at a very early age they managed to make quite an impression on me. With much of their music it’s impossible for me to remember the first time I heard it, it seems to have always been there, certain songs go as far back into my memory as I do.

I have been thinking about this as I hear the media gearing up for a celebration, tried to remember what their music meant to me even at such a young age.

Even at eight years old, in 1980 when we heard that John Lennon had been shot, it impacted me greatly, I can still recall the day clearly. I was in the backseat of the car, looking out at the yellow winter day, feeling the bit of heat the sun managed to push against the glass. I was too young to know that the Beatles had broke up before I was born, and in my simple mind I didn’t realize they all wrote songs and sang, I thought John sang all the lead parts in the band. “I guess the sun will never come again,” I remember saying, apparently already poetic and melodramatic, and also referencing a song George Harrison wrote and sang.

Although I can’t quite make out when, there is an otherwise clear memory of us, my family, getting a little stereo system from Sears or Kmart or a similar place. Cheap but effective, it had radio, a cassette deck, and a record player.

This is when music first affected me in a magical way. I remember going through the stacks of old records I found around the house, my moms and my dads. Even at the time much of it didn’t impress me or hold my attention, until I got to The Beatles albums.

This was something different. A lot of the music I heard before sounded mechanical and boring, but this was magic. Each song was a tiny spell cast; engaging, hypnotic and impossibly fascinating.

The first time I can remember having a favorite song, it was I Am The Walrus. It was on an album called Reel Music, which I don’t believe has ever been considered for reissue on CD. It was a collection pressed by the record company, a sampler of songs from the movies The Beatles made. I am the Walrus stood out because of the nonsensical lyrics and the fact that I couldn’t recognize how any of the sounds were being made. I was sophisticated enough to know a guitar or a piano or a violin, but this song was so thick and random and – let’s face it – weird. As often as I listened to it I had no idea what it was about or how it was done. I am sure this has influenced and instructed my own art more than I need say or probably can recognize myself.

I can’t quite recall how old I was when I decided I wanted to grow up to be John Lennon, but I did. There was a project in elementary school where we were supposed to research the career we would like to pursue when we grew up. Many kids gave the expected responses; fireman, police officer, president, garbage man, plumber, so on. It came to my turn and I said, “Rock Star.”

This was the first big laugh I ever got, the entire class erupted around me. I wish I could say this was my intent, but it wasn’t. I was far too serious for my age. The laughter burned my ears. The teacher only made me feel worse, telling me being a rock star wasn’t a profession.

The assignment was to research your chosen career and give a report on a handful of aspects such as how to go about learning and training for your field, what you will need to know and what will be expected of you once you arrive. I spent some time in the school library as well as the public library, trying to find some information on how one goes about becoming a professional musician. I came up with next to nothing, there was an encyclopedia entry on Musicians, but nothing about how they went about getting there. It is entirely possible I didn’t know what to look for, but there seemed to me to be no information available on how to get a job playing guitar and getting rich and famous at the same time.

I’m not sure if I ever finished that report, but that was nothing out of the ordinary if I didn’t. I do know my mind had already been firmly set on what I wanted to do when I grew up.

Even back in kindergarten, a dim distant memory that is only coming to me now as I write this, I was trying to write songs and start bands. I had a little plastic electric guitar, a toy, it took a nine volt battery and had one thick metal string that blurted out of a cheap plastic built-in speaker. I made my brother and our neighbor join my band, and I remember walking back to school one afternoon, dragging our instruments along, to play a few songs I had written for the music teacher.

I have no idea what the songs were, but I am certain they were terrible and probably not music, technically. I can’t recall how the teacher reacted, but I don’t think it was what I expected. It was probably a polite dismissal, a ‘that was lovely, thank you. See you in class tomorrow, goodbye.’

Labrador Dali- Abbey Road medley part 1- Halloween 2010

Indoor Temperance

thermometer behind the frozen windowI’m from Chicago, we don’t keep a thermostat in the house. We especially don’t hang one on the wall. I’m amazed at the vastly different environments we humans will adapt to. The different things we get used to, we put up with. I forget that most people don’t put up with the weather we put up with here. If I didn’t forget, I might have to move away.

I was telling a friend it had been up to sixteen degrees earlier, but now it was getting cold again.

“Sixteen degrees is cold!” She giggled, a warm laugh, I didn’t get upset, she didn’t mean it, just that part of the world, warm smiles is the only kind they have.

“Positive numbers at all are like a warm summer breeze to us now,” I told her, “Meteorologists and mathematicians are working on a new double negative numerical system just to better describe Chicago winters. It’s either snowing or too cold to snow, always, until the three weeks in August when we have to huddle around the air conditioner.”

“How cold is it now?” she asked.

She was confused by my scowl when I snapped back, “How the hell should I know? I don’t keep a thermostat in the house.”

She didn’t understand, I forget how different our worlds can be. She had the same frightened, bewildered look I remember seeing on another friend’s face when I first visited his house and saw a thermostat hanging on the wall.

It looked dirty, hanging there. I had never seen one before, but I knew full well what it was. It seemed to laugh at me, mock me. Nasty and rude. A pressed plastic shape hung by a nail near the front door, a little LED display showed a number. The temperature, right there out in the open in liquid crystal for the whole world to see.

I ripped it off the wall when I saw it, I couldn’t contain myself and I had never seen such a thing, but it looked ugly, unnaturally so. Filthy and obscene, and insulting and menacing. My host was shocked to see me rip his appliance from the wall and stomp the pieces into splinters under an angry foot.

“What the hell are you doing? The hell is wrong with you?”

It took a while to explain, it took time for him to understand why I would be so offended by the sight of a thermostat on the wall. If you haven’t suffered the cynical climes of the arctic and tropic midwest, Mother Nature in all her duplicitous and polar wonder, I doubt you will easily understand.

We don’t hate weather, we don’t hate nature. We know what a thermostat is, we understand them and recognize their necessity, but we would never hang one on the wall.

In the same regard, I don’t especially hate insects, or have any opinion of them one way or the other as long as they mind their own business, but if I came into my kitchen and saw a cockroach on the wall, I would treat it much the same as the now crumpled and twisted remains of my acquaintances broken thermostat.

I tried to explain, but the gaze that met me continually, stupefied and squinting, I feared no one but the penguins would ever understand.

“Imagine it this way,” I offered at last to my friend, “If someone offered you a painting would you hang in on your wall?”

“If it were a friend, of course!” He scoffed at the question, “If I liked the painting, even better! Of course I would!”

“What if it were a crude drawing, somewhat amateur? A rough crude crayon sketch of an old woman, and a caption that identified her as Mother Nature?”

My friend wrinkled his brow tight, a pucker of wonder of what I must be rambling on about.

“If it were a friend, and the picture wasn’t too offensive or anything,” he watched me close as he answered, and weighed his words one at a time, “Sure, why not? Who’s it going to hurt?”

“Even if he made Mother Nature intentionally, especially ugly and old?”

“Well…” his voice trailed off, a few gears within his imagination had sparked to life, mental gears began to grind.

“Okay, what if…” I posed the question now to my misunderstanding friend, “What if he drew an especially ugly picture of old Mother Nature, sneering right at you and offering her middle finger, wrinkled and naked and lifting a leg, tinkling on the roof of your house underneath her; would you hang that picture on your wall?”

“No!” Again he scoffed, his lips flapped with contempt, “Of course not, I wouldn’t allow such a picture in my home never mind ever hanging it, putting it up for display!”

“Okay, good,” I smiled, “Now you know exactly why people from the Midwest don’t hang a thermostat on the wall.”

©Robert Emmett McWhorter

The Elusive Humors

Aristotle_HumorsWith the Snowpacolypse we have been experiencing here in the Midwest, driving has become especially trying. I commented in a thread recently that it took me nearly forty-five minutes to get my car out of the driveway the other day.

It has been snowing all year, and there is quite a bit of it accumulated on the ground. The subarctic temperatures makes everything a little tricky, and it seems to freeze the snow into a solid sheet of ice. The following day more snow falls, adding a new layer, and reenforcing the solid frozen foundation.

I said in my comment that I may have saved myself time and aggravation had I taken the wheels off the car and fashioned skates of some sort or possibly a sled.

A friend soon replied. She said she never knew what to expect from me, and this comment, the image in her head, had her laughing near hysterically. She noted that she is not known as the easiest person to draw a laugh from, her son had told her she only laughs ‘once every seven years.’

So I was flattered, I take that as high praise.

Later in the thread there was another note from the same friend. It seemed she was rethinking her reaction, and she wasn’t certain I had intended my words as a joke, and thought she should maybe apologize for take my comments as a joke.

I was able to reply that it was, indeed, a joke. I said I thought it was a defense mechanism of sorts; no matter how terrible I feel, no matter how bad my day may be going, I am usually able to find something funny, some tiny little aspect I can twist into the ridiculous or otherwise see an opportunity for humor.

When I can’t, when I stop smiling and cracking wise, I said, that is probably a good time to turn around and run away.

I’m really not sure where this comes from.

People have remarked on my writing. A lot of my stuff is comical and filled with one liners and comedic occurrences and situations, but even in my most dry and somber, deep and reflective, serious efforts, there is almost always at least a little glimmer of the light shining through.

Readers do remark on this. Some writer friends have said they wished I could teach them how to write ‘funny,’ or how to develop their sense of humor. And believe me, I do wish I knew how. For many reasons.

Believe me I wish I had a marketable skill I could pass along to others and provide a decent living for myself. It’s one thing to be funny and make people laugh, but if you could teach humor and make people funny… I almost relate it to the ‘give a man a fish, teach a a man to fish’ proverb. Plus, if I could teach a good portion of the population and instill my sense of humor, I would probably personally find the world that much more enjoyable.

But I’m really not sure where it came from and I’m less sure how to pass it along.

I will sometimes say I was exposed to Monty Python at too early an age, but if was all it took, there’d be an island of comedians, comic actors and humorous writers when in fact these currently make up barely a majority in England.

I sometimes say the circumstances of my early years forced me to find the humor in the small details around me, but in truth –while I have had a few rough patches over the years– I haven’t had anything close to a tragic life, I definitely count myself as one of the luckier ones on this random and confusing planet.

So I’m at a loss. It begs the question, is your sense of humor something you are born with or something you develop or maybe a combination of the two? Nurture or nature, if you will. I can’t say.

I never intentionally learned to write a joke, but I did read hilarious authors and can usually only stand a movie or TV show that makes me laugh, and I certainly take note of what works and what doesn’t.

But I never took a class to develop my comedic styling. I never had any routine for working out my funny bone, other than reading, watching, and sampling, and then trial and error with paper and pen. I was mostly too shy in school to be the class clown, but I usually sat next to him and fed him lines. At first this was great because when the joke failed, it wasn’t me that was met with that hot, red silence.

The only thing I can really do is hope it’s contagious, and sometimes it seems like it might be. Sometimes it appears like my twisted sense of humor may be rubbing off on friends, a wry remark or snarky line comes out that I doubt they would think of, speak aloud, or find funny prior to meeting me. I hope so.

If I could consciously teach the world to laugh a little more I know I would. But maybe the best I can hope is some of it seeps in through prolonged exposure to my funny little tales and osmosis.

©M²XIV/REM

Does an Android Phone in ‘sleep mode’ Daydream of Electric Sheep?

This is a two-part post, broken into an appetizer and main course.

lost-in-transit-the-strange-story-of-the-philip-k-dick-android-the-strange-story-of-the-philip-k-dick-android-copyTHE APPETIZER:

In coming up with a title for this post, I was surfing around the internet to see what sort of connections I could make. It’s a play on the title of the Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I love a good title parody, and the Android phone was just too irresistible. So I dug around a little and the Android phone has a ‘Daydream’ mode, which offers screen-savers they call ‘Electric Sheep.’ This tickled me. Like the translation website named ‘Babelfish‘ after the odd creature in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers books. Nice to see PKD getting a little more recognition, and a little tip of the hat from the makers of the Android.

further reading: http://electricsheep.org/node/3746

MAIN COURSE.

My reverence and admiration for the writing of Philip K Dick is no secret to anyone who knows me or has read two of my blog posts. He was writing about androids and artificial intelligence as far back as the 1950s, and many in the robotics field cite him as an influence and catalyst for the industry.

In 2005, an android was built in Dick’s likeness. It was intended to showcase the advances that have been made in cybernetics and artificial intelligence. A giant digital brain was installed on a very realistic looking head, and the machine was programmed to emulate the personality of the famed science fiction writer.

Presentations were made, the robot became pretty well-traveled as it was carted around the country to appear at events and to assist in the publicity of some of the films being adapted from Dick’s books.

And then, it disappeared.

I believe it was last seen when it was being shipped across the country for some affair, and the android was lost in transit. Never to be seen again.

I had an idea for a short story that followed the Android Dick after it (not he) went missing, I have a little tale brewing that will pop out of me when it is done, and some of the particulars are making me giddy.

Before I proceed I want to point out my intent in asking the question. I’ve asked this question in some of my writing groups, and I have been misunderstood. This is a philosophical question.  

I am not asking for anyone’s permission or approval, this is purely an abstract mental exercise, a fascinating murky area of ethics and intellectual property law. If I were to proceed with this story, I would seek the blessing from the family and Hanson Robotics, who assembled the android.

I am not asking anyone for a solid answer, I am only asking you to think.

I know if I were writing about a public figure, if I made them the main character of my book, I would have to get permission from the author or the estate to use the likeness, or I could risk a defamation lawsuit.

But what if I were writing about the android?

It is not human, it is not even alive, really, by any current definition of the word. So on the surface, no, it doesn’t have the same rights and protections that the human being would. On the other hand, this particular simulacrum was constructed and programmed in the likeness of a real human being.

So, say I put something terrible in the story, turned the robot into a monster and have him commit some terrible acts. Who would sue me for slander? The author’s estate? Or the folks who built the android? Does a replicant fashioned after an actual person have the same rights to privacy as the person it was fashioned after?

I don’t have an answer, I don’t expect anyone to provide anything solid. I don’t think this is something we have yet covered in intellectual property law, but I find it a fascinating subject to ponder. And I think it is something we will eventually have to address as artificial intelligence grows more ‘human,’ and the shells they are put into become less distinguishable from actual flesh.

What rights does Watson have?  The computerized Jeopardy Champion. Could it (again, not he, I had to change it myself this time) bring a case against someone who it felt had tarnished its name.

Can an android, an artificial intelligence, or the company that built and owns it,  sue someone for defamation, for spreading rumors and misrepresenting its likeness? Or would it be the author’s estate? Could they bring action against me for slandering the android, and by extension slandering the human that this machine was constructed to mimic?

It’s a fascinating thought to me, I don’t have any solid answers. The questions, on the other hand, keep multiplying and expanding in my head.

further reading…

VIDEO: The Philip K. Dick Android:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJ930zzYxl8

Robot Goes Missing:
http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/author-android…

©M²XIV/REM

Back to One

5512587253_768845ce89_oI often use the New Year, New Years Day, as a common theme in my work. More so in songs, it’s a pretty standard symbol of change and rebirth and starting over fresh. But in reality, it’s just another day.

I think we set ourselves up for disappointment. Many use the New Year as a catalyst for change. New years resolutions are the perfect example, many make them, few follow through.

Instead of standing as symbol for change, New Year can take on an ominous feeling that we are stuck, no change is possible, might as well not try.

But this, I think in part at least, comes from applying too much power, or too much weight, to the date. Nothing is really different about today, compared to yesterday, other than the arbitrary number we have assigned to it.

Changing the calendar won’t change our lives. I think it sets many up for disappointment and an acceptance of their lot. We can change, it is possible, but it takes more than a cosmic odometer rolling over.

If I want to quit smoking once and for all I will make a plan, talk to a doctor, put some steps in place, change the way I approach some situations and thoughts.

Change is not easy, it is possible, but let’s look at it realistically. Let’s look at what steps need to be taken, let’s put a plan in place to affect some real, actual change. Let’s not leave it up to the calendar, and expect the world to be as fresh as January’s brand new page, which is, after all, just a number jotted on paper.

©M²XIV/REM

Final Transmission of the Annual Cycle

weirdstopwatchIt’s time to rotate and change your calendar, if your grasp of time is tenuous, please do not hesitate to contact a professional and ensure your transition into the future is as safe and smooth as possible…

So, just to be a pain in the ass and to stay true to my usual MO of difficulty and absurdity, I have decided that I don’t believe in New Years. I guess this is in part due to the politically correct atheists and all the fun they get to have keeping people on their toes around the holidays, and all the trouble they get to cause, everybody walking around on egg-shells and watching what they say. Not being insensitive to the beliefs of others, and just to be on the safe side, I have been wishing everyone a Merry Christmas/ Happy Hannukah/ Solemn Ramadan/ Festive Tet/ Joyous Solstice/ Rewarding Brumalia/ Enlightening Kwanzaa/ and a Festivus for the rest of us.

But due to my personal beliefs I just cannot join in with their rain-down games, plus all that PC nonsense, as absurd as it is, just isn’t silly enough for me.

So I have renounced New Years. Of course I can back this up historically, it was only in the fifteenth century with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar that January 1st got the honor as international hang-over day .Previously, according to the Roman calendar, new years came late in march. Many cultures still start their new year with the beginning of spring. Chinese and Hebrew traditions still hold fast to their differing views of when one year ends and the next begins.

So who can say, really, when the year ends. I suppose realistically, it is relative to each person, depending on when they were born, technically speaking, a new year for myself would begin on March 20 (eerily coinciding with the ancient Roman calendar). Not to mention the other planets, with completely different solar cycles. I can almost assure you that the Beagle 2 Probe is not celebrating a new year tonight, but that is another story for another time…

So I realize this new credo puts me out of step with the rest of the western hemisphere, and most of the rest of the world. This does not bother me. As my friends around the world look back upon the past year, and make resolutions they have no real intentions of keeping in the next; as the Earth slowly rotates and rings in the celebration from one time zone to the next, I would just like to take this opportunity to wish peace and love to everyone, no matter what you do or do not believe in, and wish everyone, heartfelt and sincerely, have a festive Calendar Recycling Day.

(Wednesday, 31 December 2003)

Catching Starlight

Flowers Arguing They sat for moment, gazing at one another. Her head bobbing slightly, rhythmically; a smile dancing on her face. He was happy just to watch her, to look upon her and take it all in; her shyness and when it melts, such as now, when she was honest and earnest.

He was happy just to sit with her, to see the way she looked at him.

The dark woods around them, almost silent but still alive. A million little crickets went about their nocturnal day, chattering and clicking and chirping, this was their rush hour. Quieter bugs made up the chorus, a few billion back-up singers.

Above, in the treetops a few lines of bird dialogue would break through the night occasionally; the rustling of leaves when the wind danced through them, the low long creaks from the wood, young trees stretching their branches toward the sky, the older trees crumbling, leaning over, falling back to the Earth.

And in the center of it all, her. He watched her head bob, she was singing a song to herself now, barely audible– partly her demeanor and partly not knowing the words. He noted her contradictory nature, she was quiet and shy, but she was outspoken about it and unashamed.

The wind blew her lazy hair in random tangents, adding their steps to this dance. Behind her and above, the canopy of stars, all of creation framed in sky– absolutely everything else that existed in this Universe on display and in its rightful place behind her, the center of his world. He noticed a new twinkle in her eye, like she had captured a falling star.

© Robert Emmett McWhorter

The Story of the Goat

I feel like I never told you the story of the goat.

goatgooseOne of the first posts on this blog was ‘Goat Wisdom’, a quick little piece that fell out of me, originally as an exercise for the writing group, one of the daily challenges. The story formed itself and appeared to me quick, maybe more so than usual. I didn’t think much of it originally. I had recently returned to writing after a good few years away; it seemed once I got my fingers typing again the ideas started coming frequent and easy.

The little story popped right out. I was pleased with how it turned out. I submitted it also as my first piece for the website Eat, Sleep, Write. I started this here blog and want to put all my available writings all under one roof.

I’ve been culling works from old websites and blogs, some of them are buried a little deeper on the internet. Some of it took some crawling through the archives, but most of it eventually made itself available and I was able to copy it and refine it and put it up here or save for later.

In the archives, I ran across a forgotten blog. I had created it eleven years ago, one of my first internet forays. I was shocked to see it, at first I didn’t remember ever building it or working on it. It was short-lived, there wasn’t too much there at all.

One piece, though, was a bit of clumsy prose that I called Jalapeño Bridge, named after the song but trying to be something else. It was mostly about a guy wandering in the woods, getting lost in the trees and foliage, crossing a succession of bridges and finally at the end he comes across a goat.

I was shocked to read this. I knew it was essentially the same story as Goat Wisdom.

The details were a little different, and it seemed a little long and forced, but it ended up in the same place.

After I combed the internet I broke out the books. Not the notebooks, don’t be silly, not yet anyway.

These are the hardcover journals, the collections, the printed versions, perfect bound or homemade. In a green faux vinyl covered book, dated as 1993, I came upon some attempts at story telling that reminds me that I had no idea what I was doing at the time.

One of them was about this guy with a strange addiction. He went to strange ends to entertain himself in the hours and days between the moments he lived for. On this occasion when the story was following him, he had gone out trying to start a religion, just because it seemed like it would take a big chunk of his time and an extra dose of effort to get it off the ground. Near the end of the tale the man has collected quite an impressive following, and they demanded he share his wisdom. So he begins to tell a parable after which he can escape. He starts to tell a story about a guy who comes upon a goat.

I nearly split the sofa. I couldn’t believe it, again the same tale had come out and once again I didn’t recall ever telling it before.

Again a slightly different angle, in this one the goat could talk. But essentially came to the same conclusion.

Three times I had told this story, and three times I took slightly different routes, and never recalled telling it before. But it did always end up in the same place, and when it came down to the last line, when it came to the climatic conclusions, all three stories ended with the exact same sentence. Exact.

It bothered me a little that I didn’t remember either of the Goat stories, or the attempts I should say. Eventually it did afford me the opportunity, possibly forced me to refine the details until I got to the best version possible.

I probably won’t share the other versions, the early ones take a while to get into the meat of the story and when they do it comes across as a cartoon. I’ve been gathering and digging and finding all the better writings I have created, everything worthy of playing in public.

I would like to dig one day for the old words; buried, hiding in corner shadow closet darkness.  I would like to crawl again through the spiral notebooks I writ in before ever I learned to type or how to internet, the thirty-something college-ruled  Mead 5-star composition spiral notebooks, 10 x 7.5, three subject.

The thought sends an excited little chill through my spine. I am starting to hope, starting to wonder what may lurk there, abandoned and forgotten. Lost story lines, they have only been waiting for me to return when my skill has become proficient enough to properly tell their tale.

 

© Robert Emmett McWhorter

Luna

tractorAfter the world inevitably ended, things got pretty quiet. Once everyone realized it was over and there was no reason to rush about in worry, things generally settled in to a nice easy pace.

I took a few weeks off to catch up on all the sleep I had missed in the past few years.

I woke up one night during an incredible storm. It had been raining consistently since the End of the World, but this was thundering and violent. The rain fell in huge, nearly frozen drops, each one the size of a small dog. It sounded like a petting zoo crashing down on my roof. I imagined the damage would be severe, maybe beyond belief.

There came a horrible sound from behind the closet door, some indistinguishable banging and clatter.

I jumped out of bed and stumbled over a mountain of books and old clothes, I kicked a path in the broken devices and lost possessions littered along the ground. I fumbled close enough to reach and open the closet door.

Pieces of the wall started to give under pressure from the rain, crumbling apart and spilling in on the bedroom floor. Large soaked cords of wood folding out past the door, too much to all be from the inside of my closet.

Long, soggy beams, strange connecting pieces, crumbled chalky drywall. I could still hear the rain on the roof and some horrible smashing and grinding coming from a distance, far off, outside the closet and away from my house, out there inside the darkness.

I stepped in, avoiding a chaotic wood pile butting against the door jamb, making it all look like an old decrepit silver mine, or some sort of wood lined cave.

It was utterly dark. I walked slowly into the darkness. The hall descended but seemed to have no end, a pain twisted through my heart when I realized I had easily gone further than would account for the length of the closet, and I was either under some secret section of the house which I did not know about, or I had passed the length of the house entirely and if I were to go straight up from where I was, I would probably be near the edge of my yard, I might even come up in the alley.

I saw a faint light ahead. I recommitted myself and started toward it. I could soon recognize my surroundings. The mud walls had been cut at a nearly perfect and consistent angle. Under me planks of wood served as a walkway, but underneath the cave continued its beautiful symmetric curvature.

I continued toward the light, and soon bumped against glass. The glowing light shone through and faintly described my surroundings.

I stuck my face close to the window. Outside I saw a clear moonlit night and the sky lit up with stars.

I wondered when it had finally stopped raining. Through the window I saw a large yard and an old farmhouse lazily settled into the front. The high unkempt grass over growing yard resembled wheat, brown and brittle near the top where it was too far from the soil to get any water and so had withered and crisped.

In the middle of the yard, mostly hidden by the high grass, a woman sat atop a big, red riding lawnmower.

Her face was lit by pale moonlight, her eyed canceled out by shadow. I couldn’t tell if she was asleep or just alarmingly still. A stature sculpted to forever ride the old rusted mower, decrepit and useless.

I was a strange sight, a still life landscape beyond this tiny window somewhere deep within the womb of my house.

Three shadows moved quick through the high grass, across the yard. They got close enough so I could see it was three children, traipsing and playing without any acknowledgement of the woman on the mower, and she neither gave any sign she saw the kids. Echoes of laughter broke through the silent night air and rattled the glass in my window.

The children became quiet in a few minutes, their noise and activity winding down. Finally they became motionless, but all three stood rigidly in place and appeared to be staring directly at the mower and it’s driver.

One child approached her, no one else moved in the slightest. Once the child was close enough, the woman on the mower began to tell him something or sing, I couldn’t tell, I couldn’t tell from where I was, but her mouth seemed to move in a very structured and meaningful way. As she continued, the child gradually came closer, and I recognized his face as my own. I was frightened and nauseous, I wasn’t sure what I was watching or when. Was this a dream or a memory from my own past? Or was it happening now? Was the child a younger me, or was it a coincidence of appearances?

I tried but couldn’t recall anything in my memory about the queen of the riding mower, but many corners and crevices of my mind were shrouded in darkness lately. I wished I could hear what she was saying or signing, I felt urgent to know now that this boy might be a younger me.

I watched more intently now, and agonized to find some reference to this scene in my own past. Which thoughts was it buried under?

The woman was still again, and so too were the children. I watched but lost track of time. The children eventually slunk away through the high golden grass, leaving the woman atop the mower silent, and completely unmoving. I continued to gaze on as long as my eyes would let me, but nothing else happened. The children were gone, and the mower and it’s driver showed no sing of life.

The rain made a gradual return, soon enough pelting the window with heavy greasy water pellets, and the thunder struck a fist against the sky every once in a while to scare us a little and keep us alert.

I made my way back to the closet door and returned to my bedroom.

I slipped through the wound of crumbling drywall and fell onto a precarious tower of books, accented by various papers tucked into their pages, built on a foundation of trinkets and cassettes and old car keys and crushed flat aluminum cans and every species of long-lost possessions, known and unknown. I stick a foot down to test the surface below; had I found the bed or was this another mirage?

I seemed to be in the place, so I dug my shoulders into a pile, descending through in search of the blanket pile, already yawning and slipping toward slumber. I thought of the treasures still buried beneath, and the archeologists that might one day come to reclaim them.

© Robert Emmett McWhorter

Self Portrait with Nail

self portrait w nail

Self Portrait with Nail – 1986

I was Fourteen, going into high school. It seemed like a big step and a fresh start. Five or six elementary and junior high classes coming together in one school. There would be a lot of new people I didn’t know, and they wouldn’t know about me.

I was already starting to stretch out a little artistically. I was mostly playing around with music.  But I was getting an inkling about what I wanted to create, the type of artist I wanted to be. It was only theoretical for the most part.

I had spent very little time actually writing or drawing anything. I stabbed out some rudimentary songs, but there was very little technically there, beyond the notion of a few verses, a chorus and possibly a bridge.

I had been drawing since I could grip a crayon, but I knew I wanted to learn and get better, at this point I hadn’t spent any time at all learning what I was doing in any discipline.

But I recognized some of the more outrageous things I had encountered, and I recognized that even if I wasn’t technically proficient by any means, I could still stand out and make sure I got noticed if I did something wild, audacious and completely different from what anyone else might do.

Up until High School, art was a class everyone took, like music and gym. I think more than anything these classes gave our primary teacher a chance for a smoke break. They were more about involvement and participation than they were about actually learning the technical side of creating any art, unless you count Papier Mache.

But High School art class was going to be different. It was no longer requirement, and I naively thought it would be filled then with people who wanted to be artists. A good number of them did, but I had yet to really account for folks who took ‘easy‘ classes just to avoid harder ones.

So, the first day of art class came. The teacher comes out, Mr. Wood, he greets the class and introduces himself. Rusty beard and plaid, he fit the image of 1960s-survivor gone PBS painting hour. He said our first assignment would be our chance to introduce ourselves, we were to draw a self portrait.

That was all.

I think we had forty minutes. I decided I was going to make an introduction, one not easily forgotten.

I looked around the class and saw most people sketching away with pencil on paper, some were measuring their features in mirrors, mapping out the head with an oval and sketching dividing lines where the features would lay, trying to show some real technique; others were glad it wasn’t a math class and drew an indistinct blob with a few eyes and a nose-like protrusion.

I noticed I was really the only one using color. I think one or two other pictures had little hints of tint for the hair or eyes, but mine was sure to stand out.

Near the end of the class Mr. Wood came around collecting the completed  attempts, commenting on most of them in a polite, friendly manner. He stood over my shoulder and said ‘WOW!’ and his eyeballs almost hit the back of the head. He chuckled a bit, eyes dancing over the drawing I handed him.

He seemed at a loss. I can’t remember exactly the reaction but he seemed impressed by the creativity, the technique decent but could be improved, and it was unlike anything he had ever seen in a classroom.

The next day I learned about the display case outside the art room where students projects were shown to everyone passing by. My picture stood out on its own, considerably larger and the only one in full color, and definitely the only one with a nail in the forehead and some sort of ectoplasmic ooze dripping from a melted neck, or any melting body parts at all.

I had succeeded, I got noticed. I saw the different way some kids in the class regarded me, and the art teacher had taken note. He said he was expecting good things from me. I saw kids walking past the display case in the hall stop, stare, laugh, gasp or shriek; a reaction, I didn’t care how it manifested.

I did learn as well  that getting noticed can be costly. A spotlight shines the same no matter who’s watching and what they’re watching for.

I was made to visit with the school counselor. Something about drawing myself with a nail pounded into my flesh and the melting neck and all, gave some of the teachers and staff the idea I might be dangerous, or at the very least not completely well.

I tried to explain it, although I’m not sure if I could properly express it; and I felt I shouldn’t have to say, telling my intention was giving away the secret of the magic trick. I tried to tell them I drew a ridiculous, obnoxious, absurd picture of myself simply to stand out, simply to get noticed. But they couldn’t believe it.

I was noticed. I would have to visit with the school counselor once every few weeks just to ‘check in’ with him and babble about the difficulties of being a teenager. I knew I wasn’t crazy, or at least I thought I knew, but I couldn’t convince the school, not that it would have mattered to them. I had made the radar, I would remain on the radar.

It was a lasting and recurring lesson. I can be outrageous and absurd and different and it will make people notice, but not necessarily for the right reasons, and it could make real life uncomfortable.

I learned about the very literal, or lateral, way a lot of people think. I was shocked at what seemed, from my end, to be a lack of imagination. A nail drawn into my forehead, to me, did not mean I wanted or planned to put a nail in my forehead, and it seemed like that part especially didn’t make sense to people. How could I just imagine it and draw it because I thought it was different. It had to, in their thinking, stand for a real desire to poke holes in my head and make my neck ooze.

That completely perplexed me, and it still does at times when I butt up against that sort of mentality.

So I still claim it a successful experiment, I had done as intended and made myself known. It was the start of a long, enjoyable run of art classes, but it was a long while before I attempted such a splash.

I wanted to be noticed for my technique and incremental improvement, although the accolades would be quieter and come from fewer places, it would at least be notice for a positive, artistic reason.

I learned all publicity is not necessarily good publicity. I learned about being noticed for the wrong reasons and misinterpreted.

I could have easily kept turning out shocking work after shocking work, but the attention it would bring would not all be welcome. Surely people would think I was crazy, and I saw how it could actually push me over an edge.

For one piece of weird art, I was already on the roster of recurring characters in the schools mental health department. And it was already getting on my nerves, under my skin, the number of adults who couldn’t see a drawing as call to attention, and not a cry for help. They all wanted to ask me, repeatedly ‘Are you sure? Are you really okay? Are you sure that’s all it is?’

I felt the repetitive and rote questions, the constant interrogation  about my mental well-being could very easily drive me ever so slightly out of my mind.

© Robert Emmett McWhorter